BY JESS BARRON
We all know that texting and driving is dangerous. Texting while driving in cars and trucks causes over 3,000 deaths and 330,000 injuries per year, according to a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study. And texting while walking leads to even more injuries per mile.
You may have thought that using your smartphone while sitting or standing still was the safest thing you could do, but it turns out that texting while standing has health drawbacks as well.
In addition to other ways cell phones adversely affect our health, Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine has found that tilting our heads down and forward even slightly when we look at our smartphone screens can put as much as 60 pounds of stress on our necks and spines.
Can you lift 60 pounds with your neck? That’s the weight of four bowling balls or an 8-year-old child. And, can you do it for more than two hours per day?
That’s right, the average American spends about two hours and 42 minutes on his or her cellphone per day, according to Flurry, a mobile measurement platform.
“An adult head weighs 10 to 12 pounds in the neutral position. As the head tilts forward, the forces seen by the neck surges to 27 pounds at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees.”
This forward head tilt while using your smartphone adds stress to the spine. “Over the years, this may deteriorate the back and neck muscles to the point of pain and discomfort — and even to the point where you may need surgery,” explained Dr. Hansraj when we spoke by phone.
Even if it’s not causing you pain and discomfort yet, the typical texting posture can make you feel less confident and even perform less successfully at work or at school because it is the opposite of the open “power poses” proven to lower our stress hormones and increase our confidence, that Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, demonstrated in her very popular 2012 TED Talk:
1. Hold Your Smartphone Higher and Allow Eyes, Not Neck, to Drop
“We’re not against smartphones and smart devices,” said Dr. Hansraj. “But just be very aware of where your head is in space and hold the device up and allow your eyes to drop.”
In his paper, Dr. Hansraj explained that poor posture occurs with the head tilted forward and the shoulders drooping forward in a rounded position. In comparison, good posture is defined as ears aligned with the shoulders and shoulder blades retracted backward.
2. Yoga Poses Cobra and Upward Dog
“Cobra and upward dog yoga poses are the most sophisticated way to gain the proper posture,” said Dr. Hansraj. Here’s an article explaining the difference between a cobra and upward dog. Check out this video showing you how to do cobra and some twisting yoga poses to alleviate tightness and tension in the upper back and neck.
3. Flexion, Extension, Side Bends and Head Tilts
As a first step, Dr. Hansraj recommends flexion, extension, side bends and tilts, followed by isometric versions of the same exercises. Here is an article describing how to do these moves. Hansraj goes into more depth in his book “Secrets of the Cervical Spine.”
Jess Barron is head of editorial at LIVESTRONG.COM.She has appeared on MSNBC’s “The Most,” ABC News Now, and XM satellite radio. Barron’s writing has appeared on Wired.com, Yahoo! and Poprocks.com.
Chronic pain affects about 1 in 5 people in the U.S., making it difficult if not impossible to work and enjoy family and social time.
If you have chronic pain — typically defined as longer than three months and not responding to treatment — your body hasn’t turned off the pain messages to the brain, even though the original source of the pain may be gone.
The pain may be linked to a condition such as arthritis, to a sprain or other injury, or to any number of more elusive causes.
While medications abound, some prefer more natural or holistic methods to quell the pain. Others find that medication doesn’t quite give them enough relief, and are looking for natural treatments to add on to their standard treatments or replace them.
Complicating the picture is that doctors still don’t understand chronic pain, but they do know that what works for one person may not work for another. So, in this case, try, try again is good advice.
Next time chronic pain is dragging you down, consider trying a more natural route to relief. And, because pain is individual, ask your doctor for specifics about these treatments, such as doses and time to continue trying them.
1. Exercise. “People who exercise and maintain a good aerobic condition will improve most pain conditions,” says Charles Kim, MD, assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine and anesthesiology and a certified medical acupuncturist at Rusk Rehabilitation at NYU Langone Medical Center.
When we work out, he says, the body produces its own version of painkillers, such as endorphins, hormones that actually increase your pain threshold. Endorphins interact with brain receptors and can change our perception of pain.
When patients tell Dr. Kim they are in too much pain to exercise, he suggests they start slowly and do even a little burst of walking or other activity — then build up.
2. Fish Oil. Fish oil is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation plays a large role in pain, says Michael Cronin, ND, a naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, Az., and immediate past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
In one study, researchers instructed patients with neck or back pain to take 1200 milligrams a day of fish oil supplements with eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid. After 75 days on fish oil, more than half of the 125 patients who reported back said they had stopped their prescription painkillers.
3. Turmeric. Also called Curcuma longa, turmeric is basically a root, Kim says. “It’s often found in spicy foods, very much in Indian cooking. Studies have shown it has definite anti-inflammatory properties.”
Researchers who tested a combination of turmeric with two other substances, Devil’s claw and bromelain, on patients with pain from osteoarthritis found the mixture gave noticeable pain relief. Patients took two 650-milligram capsules either two or three times a day.
4. Resveratrol. Found in red wine, grapes, and berries, resveratrol is known to have many beneficial effects, including anti-cancer, brain protective and even life-prolonging benefits.
Recently, researchers reported that the substance works on a cellular level for pain regulation.
5. Heat Therapy. Using heat as well as cold therapy are time-honored ways to quell pain, Dr. Cronin and Kim agree.
“Hot Epsom salt baths relax the mind and change the nervous input from the body to the brain,” Cronin says. “Using ice is a well-accepted modality that decreases inflammation locally.”
The key is to know when to use which.
“When you have an acute injury, put ice on it right away,” Kim says. For instance, you twist your ankle and it’s painful and swollen. Using heat in this situation will increase blood flow and increase the swelling, he says.
“If you have lingering back spasms, heat would be the best for that,” Kim says. He suggests taking a warm shower and massaging your neck or back (or whatever body part hurts) under the warm water.
6. Meditation. Meditation can quell pain, Kim says. While some people get anxious, thinking they have to do meditation a certain way, Kim tells them it’s just not true.
“Meditation is not scripted,” he says. While you can get instruction, you can also look up approaches and follow instructions, such as this information on the approach known as mindfulness meditation.
Researchers who assigned 109 patients with chronic pain to either a mindfulness meditation program or a wait list found that those who did the meditation reported more pain relief, as well as lower anxiety and depression and a better mental quality of life, than those who did not.
BY FREYDIS HJALMARSDOTTIR, MS
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world.
One study even found EPA to be as effective against depression as Prozac, an antidepressant drug (10).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3 supplements may help prevent and treat depression and anxiety. EPA seems to be the most effective at fighting depression.
DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the brain and retina of the eye (11).
BOTTOM LINE: An omega-3 fatty acid called DHA is a major structural component of the retina of the eye. It may help prevent macular degeneration, which can cause vision impairment and blindness.
Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that infants fed a DHA-fortified formula have better eyesight than infants fed a formula without it (17).
BOTTOM LINE: Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy and early life is crucial for the development of the child. Deficiency is linked to low intelligence, poor eyesight and an increased risk of several health problems.
Since then, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have numerous benefits for heart health (24).
Interestingly, despite all these beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors, there is no convincing evidence that omega-3 supplements can prevent heart attacks or strokes. Many studies find no benefit (41, 42).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3s have been found to improve numerous heart disease risk factors. However, omega-3 supplements do not reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
What’s more, numerous studies have found that omega-3 supplements can actually reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
Recently, researchers evaluated the evidence behind different treatments for ADHD. They found fish oil supplementation to be one of the most promising treatments (50).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3 supplements can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children. They improve attention and reduce hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and aggression, to name a few.
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions.
It is a major public health concern since it increases your risk of developing many other diseases. These include heart disease and diabetes (51).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3s can have numerous benefits for people with metabolic syndrome. They can reduce insulin resistance, fight inflammation and improve several heart disease risk factors.
Inflammation is incredibly important. We need it to fight infections and repair damage in the body.
However, sometimes inflammation persists for a long time, even without an infection or injury is present. This is called chronic (long-term) inflammation.
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3s can reduce chronic inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease, cancer, and various other diseases.
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and starts attacking them.
Type 1 diabetes is one prime example. In this disease, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Omega-3s can help fight some of these diseases and may be especially important during early life.
Studies show that getting enough omega-3s during your first year of life is linked to a reduced risk of many autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diabetes in adults and multiple sclerosis (62, 63, 64).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3 fatty acids can help fight several autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.
Low omega-3 levels have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders (69).
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may also decrease violent behavior (72).
BOTTOM LINE: People with mental disorders often have low blood levels of omega-3 fats. Improving omega-3 status seems to improve symptoms.
A decline in brain function is one of the unavoidable consequences of aging.
Additionally, one study found that people who eat fatty fish tend to have more gray matter in the brain. This is brain tissue that processes information, memories and emotions (76).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3 fats may help prevent age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the Western world, and omega-3 fatty acids have long been claimed to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3 intake may decrease the risk of some types of cancer, including colon, prostate and breast cancer.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing.
Severe asthma attacks can be very dangerous. They are caused by inflammation and swelling in the airways of the lungs.
What’s more, asthma rates have been increasing over the past few decades (82).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3 intake has been associated with a lower risk of asthma in both children and young adults.
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3s can improve bone strength and joint health. This may lead to a reduced risk of osteoporosis and arthritis.
Menstrual pain occurs in the lower abdomen and pelvis, and often radiates to the lower back and thighs.
It can result in significant negative effects on a person’s quality of life.
One study even found that an omega-3 supplement was more effective than ibuprofen in treating severe pain during menstruation (93).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce menstrual pain. One study even found that an omega-3 supplement was more effective than ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug.
Good sleep is one of the foundations of optimal health.
Low levels of DHA have also been linked to lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which helps you fall asleep (100).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, may improve the length and quality of sleep in children and adults.
DHA is a structural component of the skin. It is responsible for the health of cell membranes, which make up a large part of the skin.
A healthy cell membrane results in soft, moist, supple and wrinkle-free skin.
Omega-3s can also protect your skin from sun damage. EPA helps block the release of substances that eat away at the collagen in your skin after sun exposure (101).
BOTTOM LINE: Omega-3s can help keep skin cells healthy, preventing premature aging and more. They may also help protect the skin from sun damage.
Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for optimal health.
Getting them from whole foods, such as eating fatty fish 2 times per week, is the best way to ensure optimal omega-3 intake.
However, if you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish, then you may want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
For people who are lacking in omega-3, this is a cheap and highly effective way to improve health.
Written by Freydis Hjalmarsdottir, MS
BY JESSICA MIGALA
People tend to focus on the dangerous particles in the outdoor air—and for good reason: check out what air pollution can do to your body. But the air in your house can be up to five times more polluted than what you’re breathing outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And don’t forget you spend up to 90 percent of your time indoors, reports the American Lung Association. That’s a lot of exposure to potentially contaminated air.
Now that energy-efficient buildings keep air leakage to a minimum, there’s a big uptick in the concentration of air pollutants, says Ian Colbeck, Ph.D., professor in the school of biological sciences at the University of Essex. Pollutants that should pique your concern include tobacco smoke, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter agents, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and radon, he says.
The sneaky sources of pollution you find indoors can trigger asthma attacks, heart disease, strokes, and some cause lung cancer, says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy at the American Lung Association. “There are significant risks for anyone, particularly children and the elderly,” she says.
After slapping on a couple coats, you might store nearly empty paint cans in your garage. “The cans can give off VOC gases in the garage, causing problems with indoor and outdoor air quality that impacts breathing,” says Nolen. Some of these VOCs have even been linked to cancer. Look for low-VOC paints.
Sometimes the products inside your home are not only damaging indoor air, but contributing to outdoor pollution as well. A surprising new study concluded that household items like aerosols, including cleaning and personal care products, make up half of outdoor VOC emissions in cities. Decrease this pollution load by avoiding using aerosol sprays whenever possible.
You may love when your home “smells” clean, but many cleaning supplies are also a big source of VOCs in your air. To reduce the amount they release, Nolen recommends using unscented products and cleaning with basic, natural things like water and vinegar or baking soda. “These are really good cleaning tools and can be helpful in reducing your exposure indoors,” she says.
If your clothing label gives you the option of hand-washing or dry cleaning, choose DIY. A 2011 study found that residues of a carcinogenic VOC called perchloroethylene hang out on dry-cleaned clothes and then release into the air. Wool, polyester, and cotton clothing were particular offenders; silk didn’t retain these chemicals.
Their divine smell and ambiance are nice, but candles release a lot of trouble. “Candles can be substantial sources of ultra-fine and fine particles that contribute substantially to the exposure to indoor particulate matter, which is associated with inflammation in lungs,” says Dr. Colbeck. What’s more, scented candles can also emit harmful formaldehyde. If you really like to use candles, look for beeswax or soy options, he says. Read on for more reasons to avoid scented candles.
Some people looking for a pleasant-smelling abode turn to air fresheners. “These can emit over 100 different chemicals; some of these can react to form a new set of pollutants,” explains Dr. Colbeck. The cocktail can trigger migraines, asthma attacks, and breathing troubles. To keep air smelling clean, the Environmental Working Group suggests a simple solution: Open a window or run a fan.
To score smooth skin in the winter, you may crank up your humidifier. But keep it below 50 percent humidity, recommends Nolen. Any higher encourages mold formation and dust mites to flourish, two huge sources of indoor allergens that can impact your ability to breathe. Here are 15 ways to decrease indoor allergy triggers in your home. Then read about how to clean your humidifier.
Granite countertops can produce radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. But you can breathe easy here: The EPA notes that indoor granite doesn’t significantly increase indoor radon. The main source is through cracks in your home, like in walls and the foundation. Rather than replacing your countertop, focus your efforts on plugging up these areas in your home. First, check if your home has radon by ordering a radon test kit. You can also hire a professional to test your house.
Lighting a fire in your home may make things cozy, but it can also muck up your air. Burning wood and cleaning up the ash later can create high levels of particulate pollution and carbon monoxide exposure in your home, says Dr. Colbeck. (He notes that the amount depends on factors like the size of the room and how well ventilated it is.) Here are other scary ways your fireplace can be toxic.
Attention, home chefs: Gas stoves may whip up Pinterest-worthy meals, but the flame creates nitrogen oxide emissions, and cooking itself produces particles, says Nolen. “You’re not going to give up cooking, but be sure to use an exhaust to get rid of these things,” she says. While the vent above the stove is a good first start, that’s usually not enough unless you know it’s ventilating the air outside your home. (Some simply move the air to another part of the kitchen, she says). A second option: Crack a window while you cook.
If you can believe it, some air filtration systems will make your air worse. “Avoid anything that generates ozone, which some are marketed to do,” says Nolen. “Indoors, ozone can be harmful to your health,” she adds. If you are buying a filtration device, look for a model that has a HEPA filter, she says, although preventing pollutants entirely—skipping the purifier—is your best bet for cleaner air indoors.
A normal existence leads to an increase in some indoor air pollutants—walking, cleaning, or cooking can all add to the load, says Dr. Colbeck. You can’t avoid doing those things, and you shouldn’t. Just take a few measures to keep the air inside safer, he recommends: Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, open windows when you’re using pollutant-releasing products, and take your shoes off at the door. Your lungs will thank you.
Thank you Jessica Migala – Author
Alzheimer’s and other related forms of dementia are increasingly prevalent in much of Western society, as people live longer. A lot of attention has been paid to how genetics influence our predisposition to Alzheimer’s. But Doctor Lisa Mosconi says there’s one key component of our environment that we are just beginning to connect more strongly to brain health – eating.
“Nowadays there’s more of an understanding that your lifestyle really plays a very big role in what happens to you over time…and that the foods you eat affect the way you think – as well as the way you look,” explains Mosconi, who is associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
“But as a society, we tend to focus on the way we look and we’re less aware that we feed our bodies and our brains at the same time.”
Dr. Mosconi holds Ph.D.’s in neuroscience and nuclear medicine and is the author of the recent book, Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power, which marries neuroscience and nutrition and specifies what foods are best for our brains – not just our bodies.
She says there are commonalities among cultures where people live long lives with little cognitive decline. “There’s an approach to food that is very balanced. You eat the fruits of the land, everything is seasonal, people eat in moderation, they start the day with a big breakfast and they have a small lunch and a smaller dinner to facilitate sleep. They’re also very physically active and they’re socially and intellectually in some ways engaged, but mostly socially.”
The book goes into significant detail about the impact on the brain of what we consume, from Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids to B-vitamins, to water. It also offers a comprehensive examination of your own diet.
Mosconi says the impetus for her work in nutrition came from the evolving curiosity of her neuroscience patients. “Most of the [original] questions would be, ‘What’s going to happen to me if my mom has Alzheimer’s, or my dad has Alzheimer’s? Is it in my DNA? Is it my DNA destiny?’
“But after a little while,” she says, “the questions that were asked would be more like, ‘OK, I understand I’m at risk because my mom had Alzheimer’s or my dad had Alzheimer’s. So what should I eat?’. And I was unprepared.”
Years later, she says there are still many, many questions in need of answers. “I find that science is not fashion, but we tend to treat it as such. And research takes a long time to evolve, whereas diets keep coming and going.
“A few years ago, everyone was vegan, and now everyone is eating fat. Information travels at a speed that makes it so hard to check it. I think we need to have clinical trials that focus on food so we understand what to eat, how to eat it when to eat it, how much and how little – and really provide health and doable guidelines for everybody, as a society.”
The United State’s new chemical safety law is giving the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to regulate dangerous chemicals. The new requirements under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act will for the first time require EPA to review existing chemicals. And there are a lot of them. About 80,000 to be exact. So where should EPA start? One well-known public health advocate actually created a list, identifying the top 10 chemicals threatening your health right now.
The compounds on the list, Environmental Working Group (EWG) says, are the top 10 high-priority chemicals EPA should act on quickly. In fact, EWG says the new chemical safety law is providing an unprecedented opportunity to perform meaningful risk evaluations that could lead to regulations that actually protect Americans from the worst chemicals.
This is especially important because everyday chemicals found in things like detergents, shampoos, soaps, furniture and clothing are linked to birth defects, cancer, thyroid disease and all sorts of health problems.
They considered each chemical’s health risks, how widely Americans are exposed to it and the likelihood of EPA action under the new law. Here are the 10 chemicals EWG urges the EPA to thoroughly review and regulate as soon as possible:
These is no safe level of exposure when it comes to this bad-news substance. And while most people think it’s been strictly banned since the 1980s, that’s not completely true. According to EWG, “U.S. industry still imports, uses and sells asbestos and asbestos products, including automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tile and roofing materials.”
Vinyl flooring also contains toxic phthalates, so it’s best to avoid safer choices like Forest Stewardship Certified hardwood, cork or real linoleum. If you are removing vinyl flooring, take steps to do so safety.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has designated perchloroethylene, or PERC, as a “probable human carcinogen.” It can be found in dry-cleaning fluid, spot removers and water repellents.
These chemicals are linked to early puberty in girls and other reproductive harms. Early puberty goes on to raise a women’s risk of breast cancer when she grows up. These trouble phthalate chemicals show up in PVC plastic, toys, nail polish, plastic wrap and fake fragrances.
BPA toxic effects are far reaching. This carcinogen is linked to infertility, developmental risks and diabetes. BPA is used in food cans and other food containers, as well as cash register receipts. But get this. EWG scoured industry documents and found it’s even turning up in coffee tin containers.
These chemicals turn up in upholstered furniture, foam cushions, baby car seats and insulation. They are linked to possible nerve and brain damage.
This potential carcinogen and endocrine disruptor is seen in electronics, auto parts and appliances.
These chemicals are linked to developmental toxicity, and appear in polyurethane foam for furniture, mattresses and baby products.
This probable carcinogen is used in aerosol cleaners and adhesives, and is linked to reproductive harm.
This probable carcinogen is found in plastic wrap and PVC plastic. It is also linked to developmental toxicity.
This probable carcinogen is detected in mothballs and deodorant blocks. It is linked to liver and nerve damage.
Because we aren’t thinking of needed precautions when purchasing and using items, our bodies can become a testing site for toxicity.
Today, we know many of the 80,000 chemicals are tragically toxic. The new requirements under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act now require the EPA perform reviews and risk assessments on chemicals. This opens the door for regulations that could actually protect us and future generations. Environmental Working Group released a list of the top 10 compounds it believe EPA should review first, based on toxicity and how many Americans are impacted by these chemicals each day.
Being mindful of toxins and reading labels before purchasing or using everyday items and avoiding all the items on this list can lead to a healthier and longer life.
Now that 2018 is in full swing, it’s time to take stock of what surprising food trends lurk on the horizon. From unlikely milks to the hottest new edible seeds, there is a brave new world out there when it comes to next-level eats. We asked Diane May MPH, MS, RD, CDN, CSOWM, of the Scarsdale Medical Group to shed a little light on what bright new edibles lie ahead in 2018.
“For those with a lactose intolerance, have GI issues, or are vegetarian, new plant-based options will become available in the new year to add to that coffee, yogurt, or cereal,” says May. “Milk made from oats, flax, and pili nut will be a popular new trend. Although lower in protein, they are also lower in sugar, fat, and calories per serving, and are more easily tolerated.”
“Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Dry beans — such as kidney and lima— dry peas, chickpeas and lentils are all pulses,” explains May. “These plant foods are loaded with heart-healthy protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and amino acids. They are also a very affordable plant protein source.” May notes that pulses can help lower blood cholesterol and points to two studies that has shown the consumption of pulses can even aid in weight loss. “A great way to do a meatless Monday and reduce animal consumption,” she adds.
“A yellow spice that is ground at the root, turmeric’s active ingredient is Curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can aid arthritis and pain,” explains May. “The recommended dosage in supplemental form is 800 mg. It can also be used in cooking or added to warm water to make a tea. It is important to note, one should be cautious if using this when on blood thinners.”
“Most people are now aware that probiotics are an important part of our diet, but we will see more prebiotics in 2018,” foresees May. “Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers found in food and can support gut health. Good sources of prebiotics include artichokes, bananas, berries, whole grains, garlic, asparagus, and onions.”
Another food we see on the horizon is this highly nutritious plant set to take some of the glamour away from kale, green tea, and collard greens. Moringa has anti-inflammatory properties and contains all nine amino acids, as well as iron, vitamin C, and antioxidants. It may even help slow aging.
“High in selenium, antioxidants, Vitamin D, potassium, and folate, mushrooms have been shown to aid in glucose control, boost immunity, and have anti inflammatory properties,” says May. “Shiitaki, Reishi, and Chaga are three of the most medically studied mushrooms to add to your diet.”
By Samantha Bomkamp – Chicago Tribune
Kale has had quite a run.
Less than a decade ago, the leafy green vegetable was used primarily for decoration on salad bars. Now kale, known for its health benefits, is so ubiquitous that even McDonald’s uses it in salads. There are kale chips and kale crackers. And its appearance on Midwestern restaurant menus has soared nearly 1,300 percent over the last four years, according to Datassential, a Chicago-based food data firm.
Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, may not be as familiar to many Americans, but it plays a starring role in one of the salads Starbucks recently rolled out in Chicago as part of its new lunch menu. As Americans increasingly demand exotic flavors, spices like za’atar are expected to become more common on menus.
Identifying up-and-coming food trends is equal parts art and science, and it’s a process that some in the food industry pay a lot of attention to.
“The cronut went from nothing to Time magazine in no time; others peak and fall off,” said Stacie Sopinka, vice president of innovation and product development at US Foods, a Rosemont-based food distributor.
Food trends are influenced by a wide range of factors, from fashion and pop culture to health fads. They’re sometimes created by chefs, often in the world of fine dining, and then mimicked and re-purposed by other restaurateurs. Sometimes, it’s a consultant or distributor working with a big brand to develop a product that fills menu holes for a food company, whether it be a new beverage or a salad topping. The trends are monitored by companies that measure, track and report on them, making it easier for other companies to jump on the bandwagon.
Datassential, one of several companies that track trends, calls that pattern the “menu adoption cycle.”
Trends in the inception phase often start in fine-dining establishments and independent ethnic restaurants or markets, where the food item is considered unique in the way it’s prepared, presented and tastes. Piri piri sauce, a spicy and tangy topping from Portugal, and togarashi, a Japanese spice blend, are in that phase now.
The adoption phase is when mainstream restaurants catch on to the trend. Early adopters tend to be gastropubs, fast-casual and independent sit-down restaurants, and specialty or gourmet food stores. A restaurant like Rick Bayless‘ Xoco would jump on the bandwagon at this point, Datassential’s Mike Kostyo said, but so would Panera, Whole Foods, and even the Cheesecake Factory, which has a sizable menu and tests new dishes often.
In the proliferation phase, trends hit the mainstream and often are adjusted to have broad appeal. This means the up-and-coming ingredient is incorporated into burgers, pasta dishes and other menu items mainstream America is likely to consume. Sriracha aioli, a spread that lowers the spice intensity of the Thai pepper sauce, is in the proliferation phase now. It’s often served on sandwiches and with french fries.
In the final phase, a food trend can be seen across the industry. Brands like Denny’s and Wal-Mart catch on, but so do convenience stores, schools and office cafeterias. As of late last year, flavors like maple and pesto were in this phase. Some will fade away, while others could hang on for years.
Not all trends follow this common cycle. In fact, only about 30 to 40 percent of foods or ingredients in the inception phase ever continue on, according to Datassential. Consider bone marrow, a popular sight at some high-end restaurants, but not something that would ever make its way to a fast-food chain.
US Foods, which supplies restaurants with everything from produce to prepared meat, helps restaurants get on board with the latest food trends, with a special emphasis on the desires of millennials, the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.
In 2011, the company rebranded, conducted extensive research and began positioning itself to better provide trendy ingredients to independent restaurants. That same year, it launched its own branded line of products, Sopinka said.
The items US Foods developed have to fill a lot of holes: The products have to be able to be used in multiple ways, be healthy but still flavorful, and in some cases, be fully cooked so that restaurants can save labor hours — a critical expense.
The company’s offerings have evolved to include products ranging from riced cauliflower, which can be used in gluten-free pizza crust and sides and salads, to chicken shawarma that is fully cooked and ready to heat and serve.
“We don’t need to be first. For us, it’s a matter of figuring out which ones are going to stick,” Sopinka said.
Kerry, an Irish developer of seasonings, sauces and flavorings, is also a major player in menu consultation and the translation of trends.
When a major quick-service chain like McDonald’s wants to develop a new burger, Kerry, which has its North American headquarters in Beloit, Wis., pulls all the burger concepts developed industrywide over the last several years and examines everything from buns to toppings, looping in current trends, said Elissa Rempfer, Kerry’s food service marketing research and insights manager. The resulting tests usually show up in fast-food restaurants as limited-time offers.
Because chains have huge footprints and need to appeal to a wide range of people, they aren’t often early adopters of trends. To help chains get in on the game, companies like Kerry often take a trend, like smoke flavoring, and mix it with something familiar, like mocha or vanilla, Rempfer said.
While an independent restaurant might try something bold like smoked ice cream, chains tend to opt for a more subdued interpretation. For example, Starbucks got in on the smoke trend with a Smoked Butterscotch Latte.
When trying to hook younger diners, many brands believe visual appeal tops all. Food, more than ever, has to be camera — or smartphone — ready. Enter rainbow grilled cheese. Or last month’s limited-edition Unicorn Frappuccino, a Starbucks concoction that changed colors while being consumed.
But as large corporations translate trends for massive chains, chefs at prominent Chicago restaurants have simpler and more old-fashioned methods to develop them: cookbooks and journals.
Bill Montagne, chef de cuisine at the Gold Coast Italian restaurant Nico Osteria, said he finds inspiration from cookbooks and in-season ingredients. He tends to start dish development by considering a cultural reference, taking into consideration indigenous ingredients and the cooking techniques of a certain culture or place.
Montagne and his team usually hammer out ideas for a week or two before they start cooking, trying to prepare a new dish ahead of the point at which an ingredient on the current menu is going out of season, like morel mushrooms are now.
Perry Hendrix, chef de cuisine at the West Loop Mediterranean eatery Avec, said he likes to change the menu frequently, but doesn’t put a dish on the menu until he’s “thought about it for a while and run it as a special on the menu.” He’s carried a small Moleskine notebook for years to jot down ideas in, and increasingly uses the notes feature on his iPhone as well.
“I am often most inspired for a new dish by a sauce, vinaigrette, rub or glaze that I encounter in cookbooks old and new, publications and from other restaurants,” he said. “A good sauce is something you remember for a long time and is good on a lot of different things.”
Lately, Hendrix said he’s been inspired by taking some of his personal favorite foods and translating them for the menu. The restaurant’s whole roasted fish with marinated artichokes, radish, lavender vinaigrette and chickpea crepes is his Mediterranean spin on a fish taco.
Hendrix said that he doesn’t like to think about developing or keeping up with trends, but rather being current.
“People’s attitudes about how and what they eat have changed and will continue to change. … So I do focus on what is current, but ultimately it has to be something I want to eat,” he said. “That has always been the litmus test for me — do I want to eat it? And from there, I hope that other people do too.”
We are surrounded by toxic chemicals every day – around 80,000 worth, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From the pesticides on the foods we eat to the latest tech gadgets and hottest new beauty products, chemicals are everywhere.
Unfortunately, these chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA), formaldehyde, phthalates and toxic flame retardants, are easily absorbed into our bodies and have been linked to obesity, infertility, asthma, heart disease and even cancer. Toxic chemicals are especially troubling for kids, as their bodies are much smaller and are still developing.
In fact, a recent study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that exposure to chemicals like flame retardants found in furniture and stain resistant items may cause breast cancer. What’s more, many of these chemicals have never been tested for their safety in humans, and experts agree strong legislation is needed.
It’s impossible to completely avoid chemicals, but there are things you can do to reduce your exposure and the level of toxicity in your body.
“You can significantly cut down on the toxic chemicals you eat if you’re being careful about your food choices,” said Rick Smith, co-author of “TOXIN TOXOUT: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World.”
Choose organic fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat to reduce your exposure to nasty pesticides and hormones. Organic foods are grown or produced without the aid of pesticides or antibiotics.
The largest source of chemicals are found in personal care products and cosmetics, particularly because there are so many, and they’re designed to be easily and quickly absorbed through the skin, Smith said.
Look for products that are phthalate- and paraben- free. Also avoid products with retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that breaks down in the sun and has been linked to skin tumors and lesions.
Toxic chemicals are actually stored in the body, and one of the most effective ways to break down the fat cells and flush the chemicals out is through regular exercise.
Rick Smith and his co-author Bruce Lourie found that sweating was more effective than urinating at eliminating BPA – a synthetic compound found in plastics that has been linked with a range of health problems..
So it’s time to work up a sweat at the gym or in the sauna.
“A lot of toxic chemicals are attracted to fat,” said Smith, who noted that once these chemicals are in our bodies, they enter our fat cells.
You don’t have to become a vegetarian, but try avoiding saturated fats found in some meats and other fried foods.
Many cleaning products are toxic to breathe in and are especially potent for kids.
“Realize that ‘clean’ can come with a price,” said Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Lunder said disinfectant products, in particular, are overused and misused.
Unless someone in your home is sick with an infection, nix the disinfectant. Look for green-certified cleaners, and buy fewer of these products overall.
Sure, pollution is toxic, but what’s in our homes can be just as dangerous – especially because we spend a significant portion of our lives there. Look for paint, carpet underlays and flooring with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic chemicals that can be emitted as gasses from certain solids or liquids. Open your windows to circulate the air and reduce exposure from this furniture off-gassing.
Choose glass instead of plastic when storing food to avoid exposure to BPA and never heat plastic in the microwave, as this can cause BPA to seep into your food. Choose stainless steel or cast iron pans over nonstick.
Water is a great way to flush the toxins out of the body. Men should aim to drink 3.7 liters a day, and women should try for 2.7 liters.
“It’s easy to make these products without these chemicals in the first place,” Smith said.
You can reduce your exposure as much as possible, but chemicals will still be in our environment if the laws don’t change. Learn about the issues at the EWG’s website and contact your local representative today.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry.
As a rheumatologist, I am often asked why patients have developed a particular autoimmune disease. I take a holistic view of their illness, so I inquire about the patient’s stress levels, diet and exercise patterns – and any chemicals they may be exposed to. This helps me better understand the role their environment may play in their health.
A growing body of research suggests that chemicals in everyday products may put us at risk for health problems – from infertility and birth defects to certain types of cancer. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now monitors a total of 298 environmental chemicals that have been found in humans, including many used in consumer products. These chemicals can gradually build up in the body, potentially making you sick.
While it’s impossible to avoid exposure to all environmental chemicals, there are ways to rid your home of many of these potential toxins. Here are 10 items you may want to avoid buying, toss or replace:
Ever wonder why clear plastic containers turn cloudy after running through the dishwasher a few times? Plastic breaks down over time, and this breakdown can release dangerous chemicals into your food. Many plastic containers are made from chemicals including phthalates, which act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Switch to glass containers.
You don’t necessarily have to toss these, but don’t heat them up in the plastic. Heating plastic can release chemicals that seep into your food. It’s well worth your time to take a few extra seconds to transfer prepared foods into a glass container before heating them in the microwave.
Many nonstick pans contain trace amounts of a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. The pans’ non-stick lining can scratch or chip off into your food. Instead, use cast iron or stainless steel cookware, and natural, non-stick sprays such as olive oil.
I never allow artificial air fresheners in my home. Anything you breathe in eventually ends up in your bloodstream. Plug-in scents or synthetically scented candles many contain chemicals called phthalates, which have been linked to reproductive problems. Instead, choose candles made with essential oils and fresh flowers to scent your home. Also, try using baking soda and white vinegar as odor absorbers.
The one-word ingredient “perfume” can translate to a product containing upwards of 300 chemical ingredients. (Perfume companies won’t release lists of exact ingredients for fear of divulging secrets to their competitors.) Avoid perfumes and colognes or switch to products that are scented with natural oils.
Stain blockers essentially create an invisible plastic barrier over your furniture. This plastic will eventually wear off and be released into your home environment. Instead, simply clean stains as necessary rather than trying to prevent them.
Check the labels of cleaning products for chemical ingredients such as phthalates and chemical surfactants. Natural products like baking soda, Borax, soap powder, vinegar, lemon and hot water work just as well without coating your home with toxins.
From shampoo to lipstick, the average American woman applies up to 12 personal care items, and the average man up to six, to their skin each day. That adds up to roughly 126 unique ingredients, according to the Environmental Working Group, a public health advocacy organization. Opt for cosmetics with mineral-based pigments and natural oils. Choose soaps and shampoos free of synthetic fragrances and chemicals such as triclosan, which has been found in animal studies to alter hormone regulation.
Many antiperspirants use aluminum-based compounds and other chemicals, which are absorbed into the sweat glands. While there are ongoing studies on possible health impacts of antiperspirants, I advise avoiding any chemicals that are absorbed into the body for non-medical purposes. You can find aluminum-free antiperspirants, and there are many chemical-free brands of natural deodorant sticks and sprays that don’t contain parabens and all ingredients with ‘PEG’ in their name (such as PEG-8 and PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil).
Research on animals suggests that chemicals in some sunscreens, including oxybenzone, may cause health problems when they penetrate the skin. The safest sunscreens are made from minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, but they can be very expensive. In general, avoid aerosol spray sunscreens, which you can accidentally inhale, as well as sunscreens containing chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A), and fragrances.
When you’re looking for safer products, keep in mind that term “natural” means almost nothing in the food and cosmetics industry, as it’s not regulated by the FDA. Instead, look for “organic” labeling, because organic ingredients are federally monitored, and really mean something in the food and cosmetics world.
A good start in finding safer products for yourself and your home is to avoid items containing parabens or -sulfates (such as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureate sulfate) or items labeled “fragrance” or “parfum.”
Of course, it may not be practical for you to toss all of these items at once. Instead, try swapping out one product at a time with a safer version. Even small steps to minimize your chemical exposures can create a healthier and safer home.
Aly Cohen, MD, FACR, a certified rheumatologist and integrative medicine specialist at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, New Jersey, recently completed a fellowship in integrative medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Her book, The Smart Human: Essential Guide to Living Healthy in a Chemical World, was published in January 2015.